Tonight’s ABC News’ special, “Jesus, Mary and DaVinci,” which will examine whether Jesus married Mary Magdalene, is based on popular work of fiction that many see as virulently anti-Christian.

Based partly on the novel “The Da Vinci Code,” by Dan Brown, the prime-time television program, featuring ABC News reporter Elizabeth Vargas, is turning what has been called “a crackpot theory” into a news story.

Vargas told reporters the show was being put together “as respectfully as we can,” but it already has drawn criticism from a Catholic leader who was among the religious leaders and reporters who screened it Thursday.

Joseph De Feo of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said ABC relied too heavily on the Rev. Richard McBrien of Notre Dame University, who believes Mary Magdalene has been undervalued historically.

De Feo noted most of the people interviewed in the program believe the theory either is plausible or are convinced it’s true.

“The facts themselves scream out that this is a crackpot theory,” De Feo asserted, according to the BBC.

Brown’s novel contends Mary Magdalene fled Jerusalem with Jesus’ child after his crucifixion. A secret society, that included artist Leonardo Da Vinci, passed the story on for centuries, Brown believes. Da Vinci left clues about the relationship in his art, the author thinks.

Vargas, raised Roman Catholic, said ABC had no proof Jesus had a wife but could not discount the theory either.

“For me, it’s made religion more real and, ironically, much more interesting – which is what we’re hoping to do for our viewers,” she said, according to the BBC.

Vargas said when her parents learned about the program, they said to her, “Oh, my goodness, what are you doing?”

“The Da Vinci Code” is a novel that implies that it is more – a serious work exposing that 2,000 years of Christian belief is based on lies and, specifically, that the Vatican has directed the master conspiracy.

“In making phony claims of scholarship, Brown’s book infects readers with a virulent hostility toward Catholicism,” read a recent feature in the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis.

Sony Pictures picked up the rights to the book in June and has since announced that Ron Howard will direct the big-screen adaptation.

Brown contends Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child; Magdalene was chosen by Jesus to lead an early, heavily feminist Christian church; Roman Emperor Constantine invented Jesus’ divinity and created the New Testament; and Leonardo Da Vinci left codes in his artwork to preserve the truth (which happens to be the Holy Grail).

Brown claims at the start of the book: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” He also describes his extensive research. But he conducted no interviews. His editor at Doubleday, Jason Kaufman, could not be reached for comment.

As for Da Vinci’s intention to leave coded messages – the book contends the person to Jesus’ right in “The Last Supper” is not an apostle but Mary Magdalene.

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